Backup Backstop Battle Royal?
Image courtesy of Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports (photo of Chris Gimenez)Castro has had some nice stretches, but overall his batting line heading into Thursday was .202/.304/.360. That should come as no surprise, however, as that’s nearly identical production to his 2016 campaign. Castro is who he is, the Twins knew exactly what they were getting into. He has his flaws, but he’ll certainly be the primary catcher for the foreseeable future.
Being a career .257/.355/.391 hitter against left-handers, Gimenez looked like a logical platoon mate for Castro. His defensive flexibility was also a plus when the Twins opened the year with a three-man bench, and his ability to pitch in an emergency doesn’t hurt his cause, either. After going 1-for-4 Thursday afternoon, however, the 34-year-old has a .195/.327/.268 line for the season. Altogether, Twins catchers ranked 20th in wRC+ (80) and 23rd in OPS (.646) heading into Thursday’s games.
By all accounts there are a lot of intangibles Gimenez has added to the Twins. It’s also worth noting that the team is 5-6 in games he’s started behind the plate, so it’s not like he is crippling the team. But considering how the Twins Triple-A catchers are performing, you have to wonder if maybe there is a better option to back up Castro.
Rochester One-Two Punch
Down in Rochester, Mitch Garver and John Ryan Murphy have split playing time right down the middle at 18 games each. Both are off to strong starts, as they rank as the top two hitters in OPS among current players on the Red Wings’ roster.
Garver, who is actually a few months older than Murphy, has been particularly impressive, hitting .255/.397/.473. If he had enough plate appearances to qualify, his .870 OPS would rank just outside the top 10 in the International League.
Murphy has looked much better than last season, posting a .232/.306/.446 (.780 OPS) line. His biggest advantage over Garver comes in terms of experience, having 141 big league games under his belt.
Murphy also has some better defensive numbers than Garver so far, besting him in caught stealing percentage (42 to 29) and passed balls (3 to 5), though Murphy has committed two errors and Garver zero. While neither is considered a liability in terms of pitch framing, they also don’t have reputations of being elite in that discipline either.
If the Twins were to replace Gimenez, I would expect Murphy would be the guy who got the call. It’s easy to forget he hit .267/.311/.374 over 284 plate appearances with the Yankees prior to falling on his face for the Twins last year. The team is trying to stay competitive, and Murphy is probably better suited to step in and contribute right away considering his familiarity with the league and the MLB pitching staff.
But, if the Twins were looking to add a third catcher, I’d imagine Garver would be the guy. If the Twins were looking to add a right-handed bat to the bench, you’d be hard pressed to find a better option than Garver down on the farm right now. Sure, it’s great to see ByungHo Park back, but he’s still not on the 40-man roster and has hit just .179/.179/.321 in seven games since returning from injury.
As much as I like the defensive upside of Ehire Adrianza, it doesn’t make a ton of sense to have him and Eduardo Escobar on the same bench. Swapping Garver for Adrianza would give the bench some more offensive firepower and provide Paul Molitor with flexibility. Adrianza would likely get claimed on waivers, but the Twins do have Engelb Vielma, who is another similar player, on the 40-man roster.
I know a lot of people hate the idea of having three catchers, but Castro is so vulnerable against lefties (career .192/.254/.289 hitter off southpaws) that having the ability to pinch hit for him late in games could be a big asset. You’re never going to see Paul Molitor do that when he’s only got two catchers on the roster because the very last thing he ever wants to do is put his emergency catcher, Escobar, behind the dish.
It’s easy to forget the Twins could also be getting Stuart Turner back at any moment. The former third-round pick of the Twins was taken by the Reds in the Rule 5 draft this year, but he’s only gotten 27 plate appearances in Cincinnati's 39 games this season.
Turner was basically brought in to be insurance, but Devin Mesoraco is healthy and has caught back-to-back games a few times this month. Tucker Barnhart has filled in admirably as the Red’s primary catcher in Mesoraco’s absence the past two seasons. For now, the Reds are sticking with three catchers, but Turner’s days there could be numbered.
The Reds had to give the Twins $50k to acquire Turner, and if they were to remove him from their 25-man roster the Twins could get him back for $25k. Maybe the Twins would prefer to work out a trade and let the Reds keep Turner, who knows, but I suspect at some point they will have the opportunity to re-acquire him if they so desire.
The Twins are off to a better start than expected and there seems to be a positive vibe in the clubhouse. Certainly much more so than last year. Gimenez has contributed to both those factors, so it’s probably premature to be talking about jettisoning him from the roster. But, if the team decides to go another direction, they have no shortage of options to back up Castro.